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March 8, 2006

Ronnie Brewer

Stan Heath

Jonathon Modica


THE MODERATOR: Coach, give us a few opening comments in looking forward to your first game.
COACH HEATH: Just from just kind of looking from the outside and haven't played a game here yet, it just seems a great venue to have an SEC tournament. It's more of an arena feel that we're used to and we're really excited about being here. We have had great momentum going for us right now and we want to continue to do so. The first game is the most important game for us. That question has been asked a lot playing a familiar opponent. I think in some ways for both teams it's a positive just because the players, the coaches, have already studied each other and now it's just a matter of making a few adjustments here and there. But the most important thing is you got to go out and play for 40 minutes. That's what we intend to do.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the two student athletes now.
Q. Eric Ferguson was named the 6th player of the year this year. Make a comment about the way he played and what he means to your team?
RONNIE BREWER: Eric has been playing really well for us these past couple of games. We made the stretch. Throughout the whole year he's given us a spark off the bench. He's been another guard to handle the ball and just been a good leader for our team so he means a lot to our team right now.
JONATHON MODICA: I would just say first of all, being a friend I am very proud of Eric for accomplishing that because he's been my teammate ever since I stepped on the campus of the University of Arkansas when I watched him go through ups and downs as well as myself. It was great to see him get recognized by the league. I think he's well deserving of that honor.
Q. Is there a little more relaxed altitude or is the pressure off going in this tournament because you feel like you are probably in the NCAA and you don't feel like you have to win a lot here?
RONNIE BREWER: Going in this tournament we have the mentality that we're trying to win the whole entire thing so you can say there's some pressure on us because we need to play well. We're not relaxing at all. So we're focused on our first opponent and we are just trying to take care of business and get that first win.
JONATHON MODICA: The confidence level of the team is apparently a whole lot better than it was a while back. We won five games in a row so we got used to winning, we definitely don't want to stop any time soon. I think we have accomplished some things that we set out at the beginning of the season that we thought we could do as a team. I definitely feel that we still got a lot to prove, we still got a lot of respect to earn. I think our teammates and the coaching staff feel the same way that I do. I would say that the pressure is still on, but we definitely feel we are playing more confident, we're playing more -- playing with more energy and intensity than we had in the past. Every game is still a plus for us, we want to win.
Q. First time in a long time there's really no clear cut favorite in this tournament. Really grand opportunity for you guys. Is that the way you see it?
RONNIE BREWER: I definitely feel it is a great opportunity for us. There's not really a lock or a favorite in this tournament. As long as we go out there and play our solid basketball and be on the same page, it's up in the air. So we're going out there with the mentality that we're going to go out there and try to win the tournament.
JONATHON MODICA: I got to admit though if we're not going to be the favorable team then I am kind of disappointed because I definitely feel like we're ready to give somebody a big upset, we're ready to come in here and tear this place up. So I say it is disappointing but I still say we have got a lot of motivation to play hard and win this tournament.
Q. Guys, if the team -- Razorbacks of March the 6th played the Razorbacks of February the 6th, who'd win?
JONATHON MODICA: February the 6th of this year?
Q. Yes.
JONATHON MODICA: Definitely the teams of March 6th because the team of March 6 is playing very unselfish, playing with a lot of energy and we're having fun playing the game. We're understanding each other more and it's just the atmosphere, the program, it is just better. It feels better. We're having a great time. I think that's the key element of being a good basketball team, having fun playing the game. We're winning games. February 6th I don't think we was in a good mood at that time. I definitely think the mood of March 16 is better than February 16.
RONNIE BREWER: I would have to agree with him. I think it shows a lot of character by our team because once we were faced with a little bit of adversity not making the tournament we kind of changed things around and we got on the right page and we kind of put things together and we got those five wins in a row to get us eligible for the tournament, so I'd have to agree with him with March 16?
Q. What specifically changed in those five games? You mentioned you seemed to have more energy, your backs were against the wall but what specifically changed to make you the team you are coming into this tournament right now?
RONNIE BREWER: I think we corrected some things that we weren't doing as well, midway through the season we corrected that at the end of the season, we've cut down on our turnovers drastically, last couple of games we haven't had more than ten and when we did no more than 12, 13. We are starting to out rebounds teams, something we haven't done earlier in the season. We're just playing better as a team throughout the board, offensively and defensively. I think that's giving us the opportunity to win close games.
JONATHON MODICA: I would say probably during the time that we played the University of Mississippi, around the second time, at that point in time, we had a chance to go over 500 in conference play and I don't think the team as a whole was focused on the (inaudible) basketball team because I don't think we realized how much energy and intensity that they play with. We went down there and lost a game that we thought we should have won. I think after that we made up our mind we want to make it to the NCAA tournament, we want to fulfill expectations that have been set for us so I would say that the turning point definitely came after that game and that ever since then we just, you know, God just made a way for us, we started gelling and clicking together and we're looking like a great basketball team and we want to continue to do that.
Q. You guys talk so nicely about Eric. Can each of you talk about the other's award today and talk about how each of you improved here late in the season?
RONNIE BREWER: I think Jonathan stepped up for us tremendously as a senior. He's been one of the leaders last year and this year. And right now these last couple of games he's been stepping up leading on the scoring end, defending really well, he's making great decisions when he's penetrating, and whenever you combine all that, it shows why he should have been -- he could have been on the first team in my opinion. It's a slight difference between the two teams, but I think he's been playing better than anybody in our conference these last five games if not throughout the whole entire season.
JONATHAN MODICA: I appreciate that y'all.
Makes me feel better. Ronnie, what more can I really say, he's a Marquis player of this basketball team. He's really Mr. Arkansas. He knows that. No shame in knowing that. I think the thing that really has helped him, a lot of people question his ability to come through in the clutch time and the last 7, 8 games of the season, and he definitely did through some key stretches of games that we won during the five-game winning streak. I definitely think he became more of a man, more of a player and to be the PT player that we all know that he can be. I think the reason that we have been as successful as we have is because of Ronnie, definitely because of Ronnie.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to excuse the players.
Q. Vincent Hunter he basically missed a year and a half already, he's only a sophomore. What does it mean to have him back and what he's gone through and to miss last year's tournament and now he's playing, talk about that.
COACH HEATH: We felt his loss last year quite a bit and it really is something that was underestimated. He was the lone returning experienced player that we had on the front-line, the only one. To go through the season last year with all freshmen on the front-line was a baptism in itself when we went to all the different venues and played against some of those great front-line players.
We always have, you know, just a soft heart when it comes to Vincent because the kid gives 100% everyday. He wants to win. He's probably one of the -- you know, in terms of -- if a coach asks him to jump to the wall, he's the guy on the team that's going to jump to the wall and not even look at you crazy. So there's a lot of respect between the coaches, his teammates for Vincent and this last stretch that we have gone through because, you know, part of why his minutes fluctuate we didn't have him in the early part of the season and all of a sudden you get into a rotation and rhythm and now you are trying to squeeze a guy in it gets a little bit difficult. Once we got him more into the mix and more comfortable he started really responding. He had some outstanding games for us whether it was at Tennessee, Florida was pretty solid, he's been a big spark plug for us, and probably doesn't get the credit he deserves because the stats don't backup what he does and he's a team guy. He's a chemistry guy and that's something that you know, coaches and teammates always appreciate.
Q. Ferguson win All Conference, talk about that?
COACH HEATH: I am really proud of Eric. He's come a long, long way. He's been asked to do a lot of different things for our basketball team, whether it be play point, play two, play combo, start, come off the bench, whatever it is, whatever role we have asked him to do, he's accepted it and tried to to do the best job he can.
I don't know if -- I know what his true position is best position but sometimes you just say let's just put him out there and see what happens. I really felt that you know, as we got towards the end of the season, we weren't as consistent as we wanted to be and I went into the season feeling like his scoring punch as a wing player would help us as we got through midway through I felt hey, we need to get him out there on the floor put the best guys out there. And he really responded and he's been a big part of our surge here at the end and he has stepped up and made big plays and that award is underestimated. I think that's something that coaches really value is having somebody who can come in to a game and make a difference and he can definitely make a difference for us, now he's doing it as the game starts and he's doing it throughout the course of the game. But when he was in that role which was the majority of the season he was a big spark for us.
Q. Talk about your business stepping up and you have mentioned that you want them to play better more consistently, as you get into postseason player if your shots aren't falling how critical it may be to score in the paint?
COACH HEATH: My philosophy has always been that, be it an inside out attack, offensively and the bigs during the Florida, Alabama, and what was that last game, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee were really big in all those games each one of them, the last game Charles Thomas was huge, 15 and 15 in the Georgia game but we probably didn't get the production that we thought we could get out of Steven Hill and Darian Townes especially we need those guys. They have been a big part of us being a better rebounding team as Ronnie Brewer mentioned. They have been a force definitely in terms of just keeping the other team's big guys in check, you know, at least human and they have done a great job with that. And Steven Hill obviously anchors our middle and Townes can be an offensive low for us when he really gets it going. So I think it is important throughout this tournament that we get consistent play from our big guys. If we can get two out of the four going I think we're in great shape. If we ever get to the point where all four going who knows where we could be.
Q. Even throughout the close losses you have did you have faith it was going to turn around or did you feel your seniors were going to get everybody on the same page and they were not going to let you lose anymore?
COACH HEATH: I always thought that all this team was missing was one big win. If -- we had a couple of games in hand, whether it was at Alabama at LSU, is where we were in the lead shooting free throws and a chance to close it and it just didn't happen. I felt this team needed a confidence boost to win one of those games. It happened later than sooner. I thought the Florida game was the marquee game for us that turned things around. I always had faith in these guys that they get the job done. Time was against us as the season continued on. But we were never totally out of the hunt and as long as we had a fighting chance to get it I always believed these guys had the ability to do it.
Q. Compare your mindset now to your first SEC tournament.
COACH HEATH: A lot more confident in, you know, what we're up against, what it is all about. The team that we have in place that can compete and win games here.
There is a sense of confidence that I know we can get the job done. We need to play. We need to play for 40 minutes, we need to make sure that you know, we're not just kind of showing up and thinking that somebody is just going to lay down for us because that's not going to happen. Georgia is going to fight for their lives and everybody else will too. I do feel like if we play our best basketball and the opponent plays their best basketball I believe we'll win.
Q. Jonathon said you are ready to tear somebody up instead of cringing you kind of smiled; is that a reflection of the kind of confidence you have?
COACH HEATH: No, that's just knowing Jonathon a little bit. I love -- I have always appreciated and loved his aggressiveness. He's an aggressive kid. He doesn't lack for any confidence. He doesn't mind going out there and fighting and backing things up. So that just got little bit of a smile from me. I don't -- I don't share everything he says, but I certainly respect the things he says.
Q. Speaking of tearing things up the program hadn't necessarily done that here lately here at the SEC tournament.
COACH HEATH: You would have to bring that up, what?
Q. After Sunday's game they immediately started talking about how well they wanted to do in this tournament because they -- talk about that?
COACH HEATH: Well, that's the pressure I face is we have got maybe the largest following, I don't know what Kentucky has, I don't know what maybe Tennessee has but I know every bit of our tickets and hotel allotments, everything is gone, so the pressure I feel is to make sure these fans are here for more than one day because I don't think they are going to be real happy with that. I do feel like we made progress every year and this is the year where we have a great opportunity to advance and play games and possibly win it all. But we have to take them one at a time.
Q. When you look back at the first of the year over in Maui you defeated a Kansas team. That game went down to the wire. How has that prepared the team for the close games that you faced in the conference season and should you play a close game here, how would that game help?
COACH HEATH: Well, I think momentum is everything. I am hoping that experience we had in Maui playing three games in a row against high quality teams will carryover and give us a little bit of, I don't know, a feel of how to do it in this venue. But we were very good in the none conference season in close games, and I think again that's momentum, we felt good. We had experience, we won, carried over into the next situation. Then we had momentum the other way, we lost, you know, quite a few close games. Four, five, maybe even six, that went down to the wire where we didn't get the job done. Again we finally got the win against Florida. I think now we have had three close games and we have come back from deficits and been able to win games and we feel differently about those situations. I think from each situation we have grown tremendously and I think now we're ready -- win or lose, in a close game, we will know how to respond. It won't be because maybe we made a mistake or we didn't execute something we wanted to, it might be just because we didn't make a shot or somebody just made some heroic play that made a difference. But the players confidence is up in that area. The guys who we need to be in position to make those plays I think are very confident in their ability to do so and want to, want to be in that spot. That's something that's a lot different than what we had before.
We'll see what happens, but I like our chances in close game situations.

End of FastScripts...

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